Who Will and Who Should Win at the Oscars?
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After a long awards season, it’s time for every cinephile to see who won [and fume about who was forgotten] for the top prize.
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Manchester By the Sea
La La Land has emerged as the clear front-runner, though for a while, it looked like it would be a three-picture race between La La Land, Manchester By the Sea, and Moonlight. And, honestly, a win from any of these pictures would be satisfying. However, La La Land has the same appeal as The Artist did five years ago, bringing a beloved and bygone genre to a new generation. That’s always a hit at the Oscars. Still, Manchester is the best picture, blending humor with tragedy. If another film is going to steal the award, it would be Moonlight, a three-act spanning the life of a gay, black American from childhood to early adulthood. That’s a masterpiece too. Even then, movies like 20th Century Women, The Lobster, Green Room, Krisha, and Silence were forgotten. It was a good year for film.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle
Should Win: Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle turned modern L.A. into a sprawling movie set fitting for the ‘40s. This is his award and he deserves it. To pull off something like La La Land, you need his kind of vision. As great as Manchester was, it was very straight-forward direction, probably what the story needed. Barry Jenkins made a very intimate film with Moonlight, as if the camera was its own character. He would definitely be the runner-up. Jeremy Saulnier was snubbed for his eerie thriller Green Room, which lurks in the shadows and makes one small room seem like a warehouse. Pablo Larrain treated Jackie, not like a biopic, but as the work of an auteur, which is fitting for a film that tried to show a mourning public figure behind closed doors. Martin Scorsese doesn’t need any introduction, but Silence was still a surprise, even though we expect excellence from him. Foreign films are always at a disadvantage, but Park Chan-wook should have been an exception with The Handmaiden, a masterwork in framing and multiple perspectives in one scene.
Will Win: Emma Stone
Should Win: Emma Stone
Emma Stone has gone from teen comedies to a world class actor and this is her year. La La Land is the perfect platform for her amiable humor and vulnerable side. As a struggling actress who is considering throwing in the towel, Stone breathes new life into a cliched character. The dark horse this year is Isabelle Huppert for Elle, a dark comedy about a woman searching for the man who raped her. Controversial, to be sure, and Huppert gives a surprisingly admirable personality to a twisted story. A nomination for a foreign film performance is no easy feat either. Natalie Portman was considered the big competition at first, but that seems pretty far behind now, even if she captured the loneliness of grieving Jackie Kennedy with great sensitivity. Ruth Negga’s nomination for Loving was the big surprise, something well-deserved, making Annette Benning’s 20th Century Women snub or that of Krisha Fairchild for Krisha forgivable. But, in a category with plenty of great actresses, Stone tops the list.
Will Win: Casey Affleck
Should Win: Casey Affleck
About a month ago, Affleck seemed like a shoe-in for Best Actor. However, sexual harassment allegations that resurfaced from a few years back may have taken a toll. When Denzel Washington received the SAG award for his Fences performance, many people wrote-off Affleck as finished. After his BAFTA win, however, Casey Affleck gained just enough momentum to take back the lead. As it should be, too, because despite a great Washingtonian performance as a working-class father who is stubborn and cruel, Affleck gave the performance of the year with Manchester. His character is stoically haunted and hiding agony with a modest frown. This is the role Affleck has been working towards his whole career, and the Academy won’t forget that, even if the race is extremely tight now. A nod for Colin Farrell in The Lobster was a longshot, but that character’s totally different stoicism was terrific. Adam Driver’s turn as a sweet, modest bus driver in Paterson was also a delight. Moonlight had tremendous performances with Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes playing a character as a child, a teenager, and a young adult, respectively. They all deserve attention, particularly Sanders.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Viola Davis
Should Win: Michelle Williams
There has been little doubt since November that this would be Viola Davis’ award to win. This is fair enough, because her work in Fences is a revelation, a devoted wife to a miserable man. Davis is one of the greats, but her role was a leading one. Michelle Williams has very little screentime in Manchester, but she makes every second count. The best scene of the film is her exchange with ex-husband Affleck. Years of regret and guilt come pouring out and the pain she shows makes you shudder. Williams has been overlooked just as Davis has, so a win for either would seem justified. Naomie Harris also gave her film, Moonlight, a dynamic performance as the addicted mom who looks down on her son with disgust and the one in recovery, trying to be forgiven. Greta Gerwig, for 20th Century Women was an oversight. She’s one of the best actresses of her generation and this seemed like her year to get some recognition.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Should Win: Mahershala Ali
Dev Patel’s win for Lion a few weeks ago at the BAFTAs isn’t enough to slow Mahershala Ali. As the tortured father figure to a lonely kid in Moonlight, he broke out as a major actor after years of being underappreciated. He seems as much of a sure thing as Viola Davis. Lucas Hedges, as a lost teenager who just lost his old man in Manchester, is the start of a great career. Michael Shannon as the vigilante officer in a writer’s novel about grim crime and revenge was a pleasant surprise, as Shannon was remarkable in the role. He, too, is one of the best. Jeff Bridges was a hoot in Hell or Highwater, but none of them topped Ali. Patrick Wilson’s turn as a creepy calm white supremacist in Green Room was forgotten over the summer, as was Ralph Fiennes deliciously hammy role in A Bigger Splash. Alan Rickman, who died about a year ago, also had a quietly powerful role in The Eye in the Sky. Supporting categories often feel too narrow.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan
Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan
While Mike Mills’ semi-autographic screenplay for 20th Century Women, Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurd masterpiece The Lobster, and Taylor Sheridan’s modern Western Hell or Highwater were all top-notch, Manchester By the Sea was Kenneth Lonergan’s comeback. The magic of this year’s best picture came from these pages and that isn’t lost on anyone. However, La La Land could take this one, which is too bad because for all its strengths, the script was be a bit weak at times. That certainly was not the case for Lonergan’s new film. Krisha, Green Room, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, and comedian Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice were all among films with great writing and it’s a shame they went under the radar.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Barry Jenkins
Should Win: Barry Jenkins
Based on an unproduced play, Jenkins’ Moonlight is the obvious choice for adapted screenplay. Jenkins brings three very different characters to three very different stages in one boy’s life. Moonlight wasn’t flashy or too gritty. Jenkins’ script made it one of the best movies of the year. No one deserves this honor more. A posthumous nomination for August Wilson and Fences has provided modest competition, but he didn’t turn his play into a film as seamlessly as Jenkins. Taking place in just a few scenes, Wilson didn’t really bring anything new to the screen when adapting his play. Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung made a thrilling dark comedy with The Handmaiden out of a Victorian English novel and, Jay Cocks and Martin Scorcese made Silence, an epic of faith and betrayal, breathtaking. This was a great year for movies, so it may be too much to ask of Oscar to recognize everyone.